Jewish preschool teachers around the world animatedly share the charming tale (and song1) of “humble Mount Sinai” with their charges. While the taller and broader mountains each showcased their unique features in an effort to grab G‑d’s attention, Sinai, neither tall nor broad, remained silent. As a result, G‑d chose to rest His presence specifically on its nondescript surface.

Where does this story come from?

It can be found in a Midrashic commentary to Psalm 68: “Why do you lurk, you lofty mountains, for the mountain that G‑d desired for His dwelling?”2

Weaving together a medley of verses from all across scripture, Rabbi Natan tells how Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel each touted their virtues before G‑d. Tabor claimed it was special since it was taller than all other mountains and the waters of the Great Flood had not rained down on it. Carmel, on the other hand, claimed superiority because it had flattened itself in order to allow the people of Israel to cross the sea.

“You have disqualified yourselves with your claims of superiority,” G‑d replied. “You are all rejected.”

Nonetheless as a reward for their efforts and their desire to honor Him, G‑d honored Tabor with being the site of His deliverance in the time of Deborah,3 and Carmel with being the place where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.4

As the mountains crumbled in resentment, G‑d explained, “I only want Sinai because it is lower and more humble than all of you.”